10 Best Things to Do in Carmel, CA

Nestled along the picturesque California coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea awaits with its inviting charm and sunny allure.

Whether you’re wandering the streets between wine tastings or engaging with animals at the aquarium, the cultural richness and natural beauty combine to fill every day with unexpected delights.

Carmel is drenched in whimsy – it even has a well-known law that requires a permit to wear high heels! Come experience the fun for yourself. 

Things to Do in Carmel, CA

Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

The Carmel Mission Basilica Museum is a gorgeously preserved mission with intact buildings, bells, and an active church.

The art and architecture in the church and attached chapels will impress you as you walk beneath the ceiling’s arched curves.

The museum has a lot of neat exhibits where you can read about the history of the mission, its place in Carmel, and the people who have influenced it.

Be sure to look at each of the rooms, especially the library and St. Junipero’s space.

Call ahead of time before you visit, as they often host special events, and parts of the mission may be closed while they’re ongoing.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Flickr/Andrea Guagni 3,6 Million

Take a trip to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoy a day in the sun with sea breezes keeping you cool as you explore an area with many unique shops and things to do.

Though it’s technically located in Monterey, the Carmel Chamber of Commerce and other area guides recommend it to visitors each year.

It’s no wonder because there’s so much happening on the wharf – even holiday events if you’re there at the right time.

Check out the whale-watching tours, delicious food, sailing charters, and bay cruises.

Always check the Old Fisherman’s Wharf website for events that might be happening while you’re there.

You could plan your visit to align with any that interest you. Parking is available in a prepay lot for $1.50 per hour with a maximum of $10 for the day. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Flickr/Sergio Zeiger

Even adults will be swept back to the majesty of childhood when they enter the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Play with animals in the interactive pools, watch the graceful dance of underwater life in their tanks, and learn more about the aquarium’s efforts to keep the ocean clean and safe for its residents.

You can enhance your visit and learn more by taking a guided tour. It educates visitors about the exhibits and all the animals of the aquarium.

If you’re hoping to get up close to the aquarium’s sea creatures, buy your tickets online in advance.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Flickr/Indranil Chakraborty

Join the party at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Rides, carnival food, and shopping beckon you to enjoy a great day in the sun while the sounds of laughter and breaking waves surround you.

Consider heading to the boardwalk at night because you can get a discount on a wristband for the rides, see free movies, or even hear live music, depending on the day.

If you’re a fan of thrill rides, you’ll love the Double Shot, Fireball, and Typhoon.

Admission to the boardwalk is free. You can walk around and enjoy sights and sounds without paying a dime.

Food, souvenirs, and rides are where you can empty your wallet. However, it’s all pretty reasonably priced for such a venue.

You can even rent lockers in the Casino Arcade to store your valuables and keep your hands free while you stroll.

Lovers Point Park and Beach

Lovers Point Park and Beach
Flickr/Brian Aslak

Boaters, swimmers, and surfers will appreciate the bay access at this Pacific Grove park.

It has perfect waves for kayaking and beautiful kelp forests for scuba divers to explore.

Stroll through the grounds to spot picnickers, photographers, and even painters trying to take in and remember the magical beauty of Lovers Point.

Go early and catch the sunrise over the water, as it’s one of the only spots on the West Coast where it’s possible. 

Grab snacks at the local snack bar on the property if you’re hungry, or bring something for yourself. Food is welcome in the park.

If you want to try out boating, theres many rental stores available for those who want to venture into the water.

17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive is a California staple activity that anyone who likes getting behind the wheel will enjoy.

This trek covers 17 miles of the Pacific coast, showcasing gorgeous mansions, famous attractions, and lovely overlooks.

If you do it right, it can take all day – but plan for at least three hours to explore when you set out.

Golfers may be especially interested in the route because it takes you by some world-famous greens and gives you great views of them.

Gate admission is less than $15, and you can get it back if you eat at one of the restaurants along the route.

Make the most of it by stopping at all the points of interest, which are easy to find if you use the map available on the Pebble Beach website.

Places like The Lone Cypress or The Restless Sea will inspire awe in nature lovers.

Those who adore animals should check out Bird Rock and Fanshell Overlook. 

China Cove

China Cove
Flickr/Norm Fox

Walk along the shore where the water kisses the soft sand, and enjoy your time in the California sun.

China Cove is located in Point Lobos Park; you’ll have to drive pretty far in to find the correct parking area.

Once you’re out of the car, the hike is about a mile of easy terrain until you reach the right spot.

You’ll have to see it from above; it’s left as a refuge for the animals that live there.

While you’re there, stop by Gibson Beach to get a closer look at the water. You may want to have water shoes because there’s usually a lot of kelp washed up on the beach. 

Electric Bike Tour

Electric Bike Tour
Flickr/Pedego Electric Bikes

Join Big Sur Adventures for an e-bike tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea to immerse yourself in everything that makes this community such a treat.

Gander at fairytale cottages and luxurious mansions overlooking the beach without having to pedal yourself up the hilly roads.

First, you’ll ride by the Carmel Mission, founded in the late 1700s, before passing by the Mission Ranch owned by Clint Eastwood.

You end up with a two-mile oceanfront ride where you can appreciate the gorgeous homes and beautiful beaches. 

This 2.5-hour journey is appropriate for beginners and includes the eBike, tour guide, helmet, and water during the trip.

They recommend dressing in layers because the breezes from the ocean can give you a chill.

If you want a more challenging ride, you can adjust the bike. By the same token, you can make it very easy by letting the bike do most of the work. 

Tor House

Tor House
Flickr/Lone Cypress

Whether you’re interested in the full indoor tour, or the special musical tours, head to Tor House and prepare to appreciate a simpler way of life.

Poet Robinson Jeffers created a foundation to preserve the house, Hawk Tower, and the gardens.

They’ve created a fantastic space for visitors to view interesting architecture and learn more about the poet himself in the process.

Reservations are required for a spot on the tour, so plan in advance. The normal tours are offered on Saturdays, while musical tours are only available on certain Fridays.

Casual Wine Tasting

Casual Wine Tasting
Flickr/Context Travel

If you love to sip wine, consider taking a casual wine-tasting tour. Download the Carmel-by-the-Sea Walk mobile guide to start your walkable wine adventure.

With almost 20 wine-tasting rooms in a single square mile of town, you’ll taste enough to be a little tipsy once you’re done.

They’re nestled in a village area that looks like an older European town, giving the experience a touch of charm and elegance as you move from one winery to the next.

Check ahead to be sure the places you want to see will be open and hosting when you visit.

If you’re using the mobile app, check in at each location. You’ll get offers and even have the chance to win prizes.

If you like a particular wine, linger to chat with the people at the venue about how the grapes and grown and how the wine is made to learn more.

Start Planning Your Trip to Carmel

Carmel holds the key to an authentic coastal vacation in a perfect seaside community.

The experience will linger in your memories long after your suntan fades.

Come explore the breathtaking vistas and charming streets with your loved ones and let Carmel’s irresistible charm sweep you away. 

Note: Keep in mind that information about travel can change quickly. To make sure your trip is fun and safe, we encourage you to double-check official websites and government/travel advisory sites for the latest information on travel restrictions, entry requirements, and safety measures.